IT has been said no house is large enough for
An exception to that theory is the 175-year-
old Ximenez-Fatio House on Aviles Street, in St.
Augustine, which has more mistresses than rooms.
Since 1939, not one but from 200 to 300 wom-
en have looked after this rambling two story,
coquina rock structure with its picturesque bal-
cony jutting over the historic avenue once known
as Hospital Street.
The attention showered on this old house is
unequaled anywhere else in the city with so
many women fretting over recesses in the origi-
nal tabby floors; puzzling over the 14 off-center
English-type fireplaces, patching cracks, plug-
ging leaks, scrubbing, scraping, polishing and
painting. Yes even praying, at times, for
direction in prying out the secrets locked in the
Recently listed on the National Register of
Historic Places, the house needs every one of
those loving hands and inquisitive minds to help
preserve its historical profile and to project the
personality of friendly ghosts of other genera-
tions who worked, lived and died in the 16 rooms
of this one of a kind house leftover from the sec-
ond period of Spanish occupation.
Historical architects, examining the house,
consider it a rare pearl that reflects the archi-
tectural influence of all three nations that have
raised their flags over this east Florida territory.
The flavor of Old Spain, Great Britain and
the United States come on equally strong when
you step through any of the house's nine portals.
This architectural masterpiece built during
the second period of Spanish occupation with a
Spanish balcony here, a British mantel there and
a separate kitchen building in back-smacking of
Colonial America couldn't have fallen into bet-
Its owners make up the roster of the Nation-
al Society of Colonial Dames of America in the
State of Florida, a group that has served as pi-
oneers in a movement to preserve other old
houses across the nation.
While it may seem untypical and unrealistic
for so many women not to squabble over the
care of one old house, the Dames are content in
the role of Indians ruled in all their decisions
by historical data as they begin a major face lift
for "This Precious House" as they've tabbed it in
a booklet containing a chronological listing of the
Shouldering the responsibility has not always
been easy. Renovation of the property must not
alter the historical image of the house that has
escaped basic change for the better part of two
When the Dames purchased the house from
Judge David R. Dunham, a descendant of the
last owner, Miss Louisa Fatio, the price included
their pledge that neither the Society nor any fu-
ture owner would materially disfigure the exteri-
or architectural lines of house or kitchen.
The kitchen is one of the house's most unique
features and calls attention to an era when cook-
ing was an isolated activity to spare living quar-
ters from smoke damage from wood-fired stoves
and ovens. It also stands as an authentic model
for individuals, reconstructing houses of the
same period in this old city.
Following the $10,000 purchase, which some
pragmatic minds may have considered the fe-
male folly of the decade, the Dames began imme-
diately to restore dignity to the old house by
peeling off white gloves, rolling up their sleeves
and declaring war on grime, mildew, insects and
other household imposters threatening to deface
the interior. Some of the women are reported to
have emerged from the initial clean-up looking
like chimney sweeps.
While no master plan for an authentic face
lift was launched until 1971, the Dames have not
been coasting but have been steadily engaged in
such preliminaries as paying off that mortgage
and investing additional sums in general mainte-
nance which is not quite as simple as giving the
house a fresh coat of paint every five years or
replacing a few shingles on the roof or a rusty
lock, or a door knob.
They must get their color ideas from the
Historical Society Library rather than charts at
the local paint store. Almost every repair or re-
placement involves some research prior to call-
ing in a handy man.
Some $4,000 goes annually just for repair of
water damage to the coquina rock walls that soak
up moisture like sponges. Gas logs burn in the
THE XIMENsEZFATIO HOUSE: R
rms~n^V^ iuu~ nark.,S\0 W9
By Nancy Powell
Cover and black and white photography
by Allan Walker
R ,' w
old fireplaces the year round to toast the walls
and minimize damages.
The women also have donated large chunks
of their time to unravel, one thread at a time, the
* changing role this old house has played in the
history of the city. Their ultimate goal is to
weave an authentic story to share with visitors
who take a tour of the house during winter months.
The Dames have been coming from all over
the state to take turns serving as hostesses when
the house is opened on Mondays and Wednes-
days, January through May. The house will offi-
cially open Monday.
When the master plan completely unfolds,
the goal is to open the house the year round to
all heritage worshipers, according to Mrs. Jud-
son Freeman, president of the Florida Society.
Fortunately for the success of the project,
the women engaged in research are more fasci-
nated than frustrated when new information
unearthed changes their plans.
Miss Dena Snodgrass, one researcher com-
pares the information that provides their guide-
lines to "quicksilver."
"The more we learn about the house, the
more we realize remains to be learned and the
more we want to learn."
To expedite the job of preserving the house
the Dames recently.called in the experts.
In 1971 they applied for and received a grant
for architectural and archaeological research
from the National Trust for Historic Preserva-
In January of 1972, Charles E. Peterson, ar-
chitectural historian from Philadelphia, Pa.,
came here to make a diagnostic study of the
house and recommendations for the face lift.
Peterson also supplied some important
pieces for the story puzzle.
Prior to his visit, the Dames had believed
that the motel-like wing with separate entrances
to each room dated back to 1850. Peterson
thought 1815 or 1820 more likely using as his
criteria such things as woodwork and mouldings
and the sturdy outdoor stairway that winds to
the second floor and on to the garret.
Dr. Charles Fairbanks, archaeology profes-
sor at the University of Florida and a group of
his students also-were called in to make a dig in
Times-Union and Journal, Jacksonville, Fla./January 6, 1974
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** ** I
HISTORICAL PROFILE: The entrance to the home (far left) as with all the downstairs rooms,
has tabby floors. The ceiling beams have been traced to 1798. The only original kitchen building
in St. Augustine (lower far left), is located in the back patio area. Its fireplace and bake oven are
still useable. Wooden horse (above), doll house and cradle are the toys of the upstairs play-
room. Each of the sixteen rooms (lower left), bedrooms of simple accommodations, opens onto the
upstairs porch. Gracing one corner of the second floor parlor is a piano dated 1839. Its twin is
in the Smithsonian.
the patio area looking for remnants of the past
that would answer other questions and throw out
guidelines to help reach the renovation goal.
There were no shutters on the windows at
the time the Dames took over the house.
"A blot or a hinge uncovered in a dig would
give a clue as to the type of covering that shel-
tered the original windows," according to Fair-
Nobody knows for sure when the glass win-
dow panes were installed nor has it been decided
if it would be practical to remove the glass even
though cleaning of those myriad panes is a
Despite prying of the Dames, the Society is
still grappling with many questions such as the
age of the separate kitchen.
Some guess it was built prior to construc-
tion of the house by Andres Ximenez, who ac-
cording to records built it as a store and a home
for his wife, whom he married when she was
only 15. Others guess the kitchen was built some-
Its the guess of Peterson and some others that
Ximenez' father-in-law, Francisco Pellicer, a
master carpenter, built the house. Pellicer was a
leader of a group of Minorcan refugees from
Turnbull's New Smyrna Colony who came to St.
Augustine in 1777.
Dames will continue to search for answers in
yet to be translated Spanish documents written
in such colloquial phrasing that parts are like
Greek even for scholarly interpreters.
But, the ladies have made a good running
start in pulling the story together.
Some of the things they have discovered leave
them feeling a mite smug about the so-called
It seems that for 80 years of the house's
lifespan women have held the deed.
Without deducting credit from the brickma-
sons and carpenters who built the rugged struc-
ture, the Dames also credit these former mis-
tresses with saving the house from misuse and
neglect that could have led to its condemnation.
Three of the house's former women owners
had more than housewifey interest in keeping it
repaired since it served as both their business and
They may even have here a house utilized
after 1830 by the forerunners of women's lib,
Mrs. W. G. Lockwood, R., reflects with amuse-
She bases her assumption on data which
names Margaret Cook, a realtor, independent of
her husband, as the first female purchaser. In-
formation from license rolls show that Mrs. Cook
shared the operation of the store on the first
floor of the house with a man named Francis
Gue and contemporary records make frequent
reference to Mrs. Cook's rather"widespread and
varied holdings and to her attempts to protect her
property during the Seminole Indian War which
broke out in 1835 and ended in 1842.
That concern for her possessions is believed
to have influenced sale of the house in 1838 to
another widow, Sarah P. Anderson.
Here we find one of the many frustrating
gap's in the saga leaving the sleuths to wonder
how Mrs. Cook used the house and if it was she
who added the wing which smacks so much of
modern motels or whether it was built by Mrs.
Information is also sparse as to how Mrs.
Anderson used the house during the 17 years she
held the deed.
But, the haze clears about 1855 when Miss
Louisa Fatio bought the house and according to
numerous records, "opened it to guests."
There also is indication that the house was
operated as a "horse-tel", (to use a phrase
coined by Peterson) prior to Miss Fatio's taking
over. But it was under her ownership that the
inn became highly publicized and was considered
by some fastidious tourists including Constance
Fenimore Woolson, niece of author James Feni-
more Cooper as "the most charming and com-
fortable inn in town" with its roaring pine knot
open fires in every room and 87 degree tempera-
Temporary furnishings of their old house has
been an area of hit or miss for the Florida
Dames. Friends have willed or donated many
fine vintage pieces including an early pianofort.
But the Dames are still looking for things
like a vintage billiard table "as we know there was
one here originally as it was mentioned in the
will of Ximenez, along with a grocery store,
store houses, outhouses, a fence and stone wall,"
Mrs. Freeman notes.
Part of that original wall around the proper-
ty is believed still to be standing but things like
the outhouses are long gone, vanishing with the
addition of plumbing and a bathroom that was
suspended from a corner of the original house.
That. suspended facility was one thing the
Dames has no qualms about removing without
threatening the historical integrity of the house.
As one compromise with the past, the Dames
added a modern powder room and bath and a
kitchen with running water and gleaming electri-
cal appliances for their personal use.
The original kitchen structure with its hand-
some brick bake oven and ponderous cooking
vessels, crockery and jugs retains its once-upon-
a-time look so that any former mistress coming
back in spirit to help the Dames play house
would be right at home.
The Dames could use a whisper of advice
from those other women as they contemplate re-
furnishing of the bedrooms. Which period would
be most representative of the way the rooms
looked during the hey day of the old inn or
horse-tel? Should the rooms be furnished indi-
vidually to represent different phases of the
house's history? Questions are endless and like
some of the answers, ever subject to change.
Peterson, in his examination of the house,
changed minds on a proposal to remove some old
glass-doored cupboards which the Dames thought
were added for storage in recent years when the
rooms were rented as both sleeping quarters and
Peterson pinpointed those cupboards as origi-
nal and among the most prized features of the
Perhaps it is lucky for this old house that
women, who are seemingly more comfortable
about changing their mind than men, have taken
it under their wings. Otherwise, what some feel
is an architectural masterpiece might have long
ago been junked like humpty-dumpty.
Long live the Ximenez-Fatio house, blessed
by so many women patiently engaged in putting
its story back together again. 0